December 24th, 1979

It’s Christmas Eve. Mamá died from liver failure in October, and she was buried unceremoniously in el Cementerio San Juan Bautista while Elena and I looked on. I miss the way she told stories, and the way, when we were kids, she would swirl around the house, laughing and telling us about her day while fixing dinner. The end of her life was awful – she worked until she was unable to, and she spent the rest of her days drinking in bed and refusing medical treatment. I miss her as a presence in my life and I miss her as something Elena and I had in common – I miss having a mother, but it is also such a relief. I know I’m not supposed to say that.

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m still in disbelief because yesterday – if it wasn’t a dream – I got a call from Raúl. I picked up the phone and he said his name, in his voice, and I immediately broke down in a way I didn’t think I was capable of – as if the weight of Mamá’s death and our poverty and the regime and the past few years was all suddenly real and physical and pressing down on me. “They didn’t kill me,” he said through tears, and he began to laugh. It was one of those moments where laughter and tears are each not quite enough, but together they are almost sufficient, and they become a kind of animal scream that takes control of your whole body – Raúl and I sat on opposite ends of the phone line, wailing.

Elena is draping tinsel from the curtain rods. She plucks the ornaments from our modest tree and rearranges them until it looks balanced, she centers the angel on top. Raúl told me on the phone that he doesn’t know why they let him live. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do next. He doesn’t know how to reach his family. I told him to stay with us in Corrientes. He is on his way now. Elena is putting the pan dulce in the oven. I am filled with complicated joy and anxiety – what do you say to someone who has just been released from six years of imprisonment and torture? Will I recognize him?

1 thought on “December 24th, 1979

  1. ssvolk says:

    Hola, Gabriel. That’s such wonderful news about Raul! You must be so excited. (I’m so sorry – I should have expressed my condolences first about the loss of your mother, but I also know how you feel.) You’ll need to tell me everything about what happened to Raul – I’m so curious! All my best to Elena!

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